It is just over a year since I last visited St Mary’s Indoor Market, situated in St Mary’s Arcade, within St Helens’ Church Square Shopping Centre.
At that time, Market Manager Kevin Gavin, was busy recruiting more traders and so I was keen to see what he had achieved. My visit also happened to coincide with the market’s summer ‘school’s out’ activities.
It was a sunny Saturday in August and the last week of the school holidays. As you would expect, the market was busy. The first thing that I noticed on entering the market and doing my usual reccy, was that occupancy levels had notably increased and there were a lot less empty stalls. Some traders had disappeared, but they had been replaced and many of the long-term traders remained, which is also reassuring. I took the opportunity to meet some of the new traders:
Meet the Traders
I was keen to see Reflections, as I had met Tony, the proprietor, on my previous visit and he was in the process of kitting out his new unit. Unfortunately, he wasn’t about to talk to, but the ladies looking after the shop said that the move from the shop near the bus station had been very successful, even intimating that the customers preferred St Mary’s. One customer told me: “It’s good to have them back in the market.” (Reflections had traded in the market previously and Kevin had persuaded Tony to come back, knowing it would be a big pull for the market.) Reflections’ main line is hair pieces, but quality lines, not those nasty, gaudy coloured, nylon looking things. They also sell a range of cosmetics and accessories and outside of the unit, they had a couple of racks of hair accessories, perfect for ‘back to school’. They don’t have any competition locally in terms of hair pieces and customers followed them to the market. The staff told me that they had also gained lots of new customers and were very happy to be back in the market.
Another returning face was Ronnie of St Mary’s Rugs and Gifts. The company traded five years ago at the market before moving to Prescot Shopping Centre. When his lease expired in April, he decided to return to the market. He explained that because they are well-known locally, their customers followed them. As well as rugs and gifts, Ronnie also sells memorials. The display of his two units was very colourful, sparkly and eye-catching. I commented on that and he replied: “Merseyside is the capital of glitter!” The floral displays are made up in-house and they change the rugs on a monthly basis to promote different colours. They have over twenty years of trading experience and know what their customers want.
Jill of Goths and Rockers has also left and come back, having tried various shops and outlets, but always migrates back to St Mary’s. This is her third stint and she told me: “I should have stayed here, this is the best market.” She went on to say that her customers had followed her here and that she plans to stay now, adding: “There’s a really nice atmosphere here and Kevin has been really supportive.” Jill’s core line is T shirts, but she started off selling handmade jewellery and expanded. The jewellery making is self-taught and she is learning about the healing qualities of the semi-precious stones that she is using. She is already preparing for Christmas, taking bespoke orders.
Returning after quite a long break and with a prominent front position is Up Market Lighting, who started back on Mothering Sunday this year, selling gifts. Lorraine and Gerry Milligan are well known locally and their customers have followed them. Their lighting display is quite varied and reiterates Ronnie’s comment that Merseyside people like sparkle. There were also some ‘Tiffany-esque’ lamps that were at the more expensive end of the scale and there are few people locally that stock these. They also have some crystal items, rather than the Chinese glass items that are omnipresent.
Daniel Gordon’s computer repairs stall is a big pull to the market, he has recently relocated to the front of the market which has helped his business, although he is well known by reputation around St Helens. A customer, who was at the unit with her tablet when I visited, told me that a friend of hers had said: “See Dan on the market, he’s brilliant.” She always uses him now and has recommended him to other people. She also commented, “This is a great market, I hope the council continue to keep it open.”
Chris Coles Of Arkham Asylum has also moved units as she outgrew the one she took on in December. The name, for the uninitiated like myself, is from Batman and this will then give you a better idea of what she sells. It is a mecca for the comic con fan selling vintage and collectibles from DC and Marvel, as well as Japanese Anime characters and Pokemon cards. Chris explained that what is popular is often dependant on the film releases. She is fine art trained and can customise, make and repair models. She also hand paints leather jackets. Her designs are stunning and no two are the same. Although the super heroes are her core line, the bespoke jackets are very popular. She already has a good following and she promotes her business via Facebook. Many customers will come in for advice on modelling and she will try and source specific items for customers. Prices range from pocket money items for children, through to large, articulated customised toys for the serious collector.
One of the new kids on the block is Mandy O’Mahoney of Bags of Style, whose husband runs a mobile phone repairs and accessories unit next to hers. The previous bag retailers retired and Mandy saw an opportunity. She was busy with Back-to-School bags, back packs and character bags for the juniors and is already thinking about Christmas with a range of bag charms. Mandy has her bags neatly displayed in large, white ‘cubby holes’ which show them off well. Prior to taking on the unit approximately six weeks prior to my visit, she ran a wedding car business but the bags are now her main focus. She has always loved bags and worked in a shop selling them during her college years. She said of the experience so far at St Mary’s: “Everyone has been really friendly and given me loads of advice, it’s been brilliant.”
It was also good to catch up with a few familiar faces too. Choice cards and gifts had their customised St Helens Christmas cards on display, which I thought was a great idea, knowing how fiercely proud people from Merseyside are. It’s not something that I see in such abundance in other towns and cities.
Butchers, Yates Greer, had a constant supply of customers and it was nice to see some of the local produce that you don’t see often elsewhere, such as tripe and cold cuts of tongue, brawn, veal and haslet. The market could still benefit from a greengrocer which would help to support the butchers and vice versa.
Peter of I.C Pets is still going steady thanks to his loyal customers who have become friends over the years. They will even share the loss of their beloved pet with Peter and then are back a few months later buying for their new puppy – heart-warming.
Kevin has run a programme of family entertainment at both of his markets throughout the summer. These have included pop-up cinemas and Blackpool Town Crier, Barry McQueen, whom featured in the Earlestown article (MTN May 2017, Issue 205). On the day I visited, TimTam and Mog from Southport based, Starkidz Entertainment were providing crafts for children. Poppy and Branch from the Trolls were wandering around the market, dancing and dabbing with the children and Dee from Fancy Faces, also from Southport, was providing free glitter face painting. I’ve seen a lot of face painting during my tour of markets and Dee is definitely one of the better ones. They had all been at St Mary’s throughout August and so were familiar with what was required from them and there was a steady flow of children participating in the activities.
Unless you are in a city or an area that has a good tourist trade, many indoor markets are ‘feeling the pinch’, but Kevin and the team continue to improve St Mary’s Market and bring in popular, quality traders. It was good to see that the occupancy rates had increased and there were a lot less empty units, which gives the customers and traders reassurance about the stability of the market.
Family entertainment, such as the type that Kevin organised, is a relatively low investment for a council or operator, that will bring people to the venue that will hopefully browse and spend. It also encourages the younger generation into the market, these people being the market shoppers of the future.
Trade at St Mary’s
There are a number of commodities that the market could benefit from, including: greengrocer, fishmonger, bakery, electrical, fresh flowers, key cutting /cobblers, DIY, and health foods. For traders with these commodities, they will qualify for a three-month rent-free period, in addition to a six-month incentivised rent period. The incentivised rent is open to all new traders bringing new lines to the market, offering reduced rents for the first six months.
To find out more and to join St Mary’s, contact the Market Team on: 01744677155 or email firstname.lastname@example.org